Friday, April 12, 2013

I don't want to make more bricks in the wall, Part 2

Dear Internet,

In the first part of this yesterday, I discussed what I do here at teacher's college and what I don't like about my program. Today, I want to discuss a couple things I do like in addition to how I would personally structure a course here to be most useful to teacher candidates like me.

WHAT I LIKE: This may be a short list but I do want to be fair in these posts - I don't hate absolutely everything about my program here.

First off, I find that most of my professors really do care about our success here and in our future classrooms, and I really appreciate that. Most are prompt about responding to emails and questions, and are always willing to meet outside of class time to discuss assignments or practicum.

Secondly, some of the assignments are useful. Like I said before, the only useful paper I've written was my practicum summaries, but we do have a number of assignments that are not papers. I've created a couple lesson plans and gotten feedback on those, as well as some unit plans and assessments. Assignments where we practice doing things that we are expected to do in a classroom are the most useful, and as you'll see in my following course description, are something I would like to focus on.

Lastly, we have no exams in the traditional sense. I have said before that I believe that teaching is very practical and therefore teacher's college should focus more on the practical, and in this respect they do. Ontario does not have teacher examinations; so, since taking exams is not something we will be expected to do professionally, it is reasonable to not include it in our teachers' education.

MY COURSE PLAN: In general, I would prefer a course focused on practicing skills that are needed in one's day-to-day life as a teacher, including (but not limited to): planning (lessons, units, etc.), understanding what you are teaching, marking, etc. I am going to describe a math curriculum course here: not because I have the most problems with that course, but because curriculum courses are a common component to most teacher education programs. In addition, I will follow the same structure as my program - basically, 1 month class, 1 month practicum, repeat.

Block before first practicum: Each class day is split into half topic and half theory. 

By topic, I mean actual high school curriculum topics. You can't be an expert in everything (personally, my weakest points are vectors and probability/statistics), and there are many people going through the program who have not seen some of these topics in years. So, the teacher candidates (TCs) would create a list of their weak topics they would like a refresher in and an hour of each class would be focused on one of these topics. 

By theory, I mean the kinds of things that are already included in classes here. What kind of assessment to use when, strategies to differentiate instruction, etc. While I disagree with the extent to which it is included in some of our courses, I think that some is definitely necessary to differentiate an actual teacher from a random person standing in front of a group of children talking about math.

Every class (except the first), each TC would bring in a completed lesson plan for the topic discussed in the previous class, hopefully including some of the theory that was also discussed. As part of the theory portion of the class, TC's will take a few minutes to discuss their choices for their lesson plans with a partner and describe how they applied the topics from last class (good practice for interviews, where you would be expected to similarly describe/defend your teaching choices).

The overall project for this block would be to create a unit plan in a pair or group. (This is actually an assignment that we did in real life which I felt was really useful.)

Block after first practicum: The general structure of half-topic half-theory will remain, as well as the lesson plan homework. In addition, each TC would complete a short reflection of their practicum experience describing one successful lesson and one not-as-successful lesson (regardless of whether their practicum was in mathematics).

The overall project for this block would be to create a course outline in a pair or group.

Block after second practicum: Each TC would do another practicum reflection as in the previous block. At this point, all topics that were problematic have (hopefully) been covered, so that part of each class would no longer happen, as well as the lesson plan homework. Instead, that part of each class would be focused on assessment. In-class activities would include creating "rich learning tasks" (another thing we actually do in class), creating rubrics and distinguishing a good one from a bad one, improving on test questions, etc.

The overall project for this block would be to create a final assessment in a pair or group (another real-life assignment).

Final block: Again, the first assignment would be a short practicum reflection. The non-theory half of the class would be focused on technology. TCs would be split into groups, and each class would have the chance to play with a different piece of technology. The next class, they would be expected to have a lesson plan involving the technology they investigated in the previous class. Again, some time each class would be spent discussing the lesson plans, and after discussion and revision, the lesson plans would be submitted for marks.

There would be no overall project for this block, and instead the mark for this block would be based on the technology lesson plans.

FINAL COMMENTS: There you have it, my idea for a general course structure. Obviously, I am not a university professor, so my plans probably have all sorts of holes and terrible things going on in them. If you spot any or have your own ideas for what you think would be better, let me know! This is a topic that I could probably talk endlessly about, so if you feel like talking endlessly, I'm on board.

I'd like to point out the various parallels between what I have described here and the course that I am actually taking right now. As much as I enjoy whining, I do not feel that teacher's college has been pointless. I've come away with ideas of what I like about education, and what I don't like. And isn't the point of education to get students to think critically about what they know and what they are being taught?



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